Illinois Appellate Court Affirms Nursing Home Abuse Verdict Where Two Jury Instructions Were Given

Eleanor Groeller died, allegedly because of the nursing home negligence of Evergreen Healthcare Center where she was a resident. Her son, William M. Groeller Jr., who was administrator of her estate, filed a negligence complaint against Evergreen Healthcare.

The trial was held in the Circuit Court of Cook County wherein Groeller’s counsel requested that the judge give a jury instruction on institutional negligence as to the nursing home. However, based upon testimony from Groeller’s nursing expert about the alleged failings of the nursing home’s nurses, the defendant nursing home requested an instruction to the jury on professional negligence. That instruction was designed to instruct the jury on the negligence of the nurses, not the nursing home as an institution.

The trial judge decided to give both of these jury instructions. The jury returned a verdict for the nursing home and Groeller appealed arguing that the instructions were contradictory.


The Illinois Appellate Court affirmed the jury’s verdict and the jury verdict judgment entered by the court. The appeals panel concluded that the dual instructions “did not mislead the jury and fairly and correctly stated the law where the evidence at trial supported a theory that defendant was liable because either the institution or its professional employees were negligent or both.”

Because the nursing home “had an independent right to have the jury fully and properly instructed on each theory of liability supported by the evidence,” there was “no error in the trial court’s giving of dual instructions on institutional negligence and professional negligence.”

“In an ordinary negligence case, the standard of care required of a defendant is to act as would an ordinarily careful person or a reasonably prudent person. In contrast, in a professional negligence case, the standard of care required of a defendant is to act as would an ordinarily careful professional. Pursuant to the standard of care, professionals are expected to use the same degree of knowledge, skill and ability as an ordinarily careful professional would exercise under similar circumstances.” Jones v. Chicago HMO, Ltd., 191 Ill.2d 278 (2000).

In Illinois, a hospital can be found liable in a medical negligence case under two separate and distinct theories: (1) liability for its own institutional negligence; and (2) vicarious liability for medical negligence of its agents or employees. Longnecker v. Loyola University Medical Center, 383 Ill.App.3d 874 (2008).

In an institutional negligence case, the Illinois Supreme Court has stated that hospitals have an independent duty to assume responsibility for the care of their patients. Jones, 191 Ill.2d at 291. “Ordinarily, this duty is administrative or managerial in character. To fulfill this duty, a hospital must act as would a reasonably careful hospital under the circumstances.” Id. 291-92.

The hospital’s liability is set because of its own negligence, not the negligence of one of its employees, physician or agent. The same standard for institutional liability that a hospital has also applies to nursing homes.

Groeller’s argument and dispute focuses on whether the trial judge should have instructed the jury on the standard of care applicable to defendant’s professional nurses. The trial court gave the jury both the institutional negligence instruction and the professional negligence instruction tendered by each party. The plaintiff argued that the instructions “confused the nature of the defendant and contradicted the nature of plaintiff’s burden to prove the defendant was negligent.” The plaintiff cited People v. Jenkins, 69 Ill.2d 61 (1977) for the general proposition that “it is the duty of the court to inform the jury as to the law.”

In the appeal, the plaintiff did not discuss or suggest that the evidence did not support the theory that the defendant was potentially vicariously liable for the professional negligence of its nurses and for that reason, defendant was not entitled to its instruction. Defendant had an independent right to have the jury fully and properly instructed on each theory of liability supported by the evidence. Brax v. Kennedy, 363 Ill.App.3d 343 (2005). For these reasons, the appeals panel found there was no error in the trial judge’s giving of the dual instructions on institutional negligence and professional negligence and thus the jury’s verdict in favor of the defendant does stand.

Groeller v. Evergreen Healthcare Center, 2015 IL App (1st) 140932 (April 30, 2015).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling nursing home negligence cases, nursing home abuse cases and medical negligence cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of a medical provider for more than 38 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Tinley Park, Aurora, River Grove, Inverness, Arlington Heights, Naperville, South Barrington, Chicago Heights, Blue Island, Grayslake, Willowbrook, Wheaton, Winnetka, Wilmette, Evanston, Skokie, Niles, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect, Crestwood and Forest Park, Ill.

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